Monday, 13 September 2010

Conference reflections

We had a well-attended and up-beat few days in Aberystwyth. It was good to have some genuine debate this year as well. It's something that I've been arguing for over the past few years, since I felt that Conference was getting a little too bland. It was hard to do much more than urge others in the past though; this year, I had an opportunity to do what I've been urging others to do. And I took it.

Martin Shipton suggests that there is something novel about delegates having the freedom to debate controversial motions. Actually, the freedom has always been there at Plaid conferences – we've just been through a somewhat exceptional period where no-one has put any forward.

Heledd Fychan seems to think I was being mischievous, and breaking the rules I set for others. Not so – I've never tried to suppress debate or disagreement in Conference; that is exactly the place where we should have it. It's the anonymous briefings, the fake discussion documents, and the public undermining of the party's position between conferences that I've always opposed.

Plus, I have to say, that with one possible exception, I think I can honestly say that every intervention that I made on policy issues during the conference was either actually in support of existing – often long-held – policy against proposals from others to change it or water it down, or else making the case for more consistency of approach.

So I argued for retention of the party's existing policy on tuition fees rather than for accepting the Assembly Group proposal to consider alternatives, and I argued that we couldn't say in our manifesto that we are calling for an end to subsidies to air transport and then support giving a subsidy to an air service.

One of the debates which has received attention was that on nuclear energy. Although actually the debate wasn't really about nuclear energy at all – all the contested amendment said was that if Wylfa B is given the go-ahead, then we should ensure that we derive maximum economic benefit from the decision. It sounds obvious, so why did I oppose it?

The problem with it, as I see it, was this. Firstly, there's a question of timing. Passing such a motion after a decision on Wylfa B had been taken would be stating the obvious – a complete no-brainer. But passing it whilst a decision is still pending looks like accepting that decision rather than opposing it.

Secondly, it was clear to me that others would interpret the decision as being something other than it is – and this rather misleading report from Golwg serves only to confirm that point. It didn't help that several of those speaking in favour of the change clearly saw it as an opportunity to support the building of Wylfa B, and they did so.

There is a danger that we give the impression that we're completely opposed to building any new nuclear power stations only in those locations where no-one wants to build one anyway. But for the record, the policy as passed means that we are still against Wylfa B – or any other new station – but if we lose that argument, then we will seek maximum local economic benefit. We've had the debate, and we've come to a democratic decision. I can and will support that policy. And continue to put the case against nuclear energy.

Update: I note that the Golwg report to which I linked has completely changed from the original earlier report, which stated pretty categorically that Plaid had decided to support Wylfa B. The description of the report as 'rather misleading' above refers to the original, not the amended version.

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